Saturday, April 13, 2013

While the snow may still be on the ground, spring is on my mind and it’s spring in Mollans. The recent storm and blizzard warnings could just have easily applied to the thickly flying e-mails between Hallie, my fellow home owner, and myself.  We’ve sent each other our arrival and departure dates, co-ordinated pick-ups and drop offs to get to and from train stations and airports, and exchanged to-do lists for when we arrive.  There’s also the who’s bringing what for the house from here discussions and and the ticking off of which friends in Mollans each of us has notified of our arrival.

Like any good trip, the anticipatory plotting is part of the pleasure arc.  While we’re not mapping out the customary tourist itinerary more common to travelers, we are devoting lots of loving time and attention to our arrival.

The annual, full-fledged planning began with the requisite purchase of plane tickets.  Hallie’s had hers for an age but I dragged my heels for quite a while before recently booking them on-line.  I’ll be doing my transatlantic crossing a bit earlier this year than normal, deciding that bit of exploration would be an appropriate treat to myself as I approach what I think of as a marker birthday. (Not 21, not 40, but rather 65.)   Continuing the “M” theme set by the arrival of my Medicare card, I chose a side trip to Morocco. I’m hoping for “magnificent” as descriptor for that prequel to Mollans, rounding out the alliteration nicely.

With that established, our emails are branching out to friends and our local support system in the village.  Hallie’s written to our British friende, Steve, to arrange for a pick-up at Avignon, as she’ll get to the house first.  I’ve blown the dust off  my French and emailed our cleaning woman in the village to do the same to the house..  While in bi-lingual mode, I gave our friends at the local hotel a quick hello and made reservations too for a private group who’ll be cooking with us later in the month.

Snail mail is also our friend these days.  Hallie will need to go and straighten out our annual property tax snafu at the Tresor Public.  For some reason, even though we’re set up for automatic payment for both sets of taxes, only one set gets deducted.  Since I keep the joint checkbook, our US postal service will be delivering a blank check to Hallie in California shortly so that she can pay the tax off before the Tresor does something drastic.

With some of the check list accomplished, there’s the “ who’s packing what” yet to be settled.  Since I’m starting with a detour, I’m trying to travel light but there’s the stack of small and not so small items in my closet waitin to be packed.  The question du jour is whether my new tool box, a Christmas present from my son, Eric, will fit in with the rest of my gear.  I think it will hold my underwear or perhaps a pair of shoes nicely.  Bedding’s cheaper here than in France so Hallie’s in charge of a new set of sheets for her bed.  That may be about it for this trip.

While none of the nitty gritty is particularly alluring, except for the emails to friends, it brings the pending trip to mind on a daily or even more frequent basis.  It’s all part of the rhythm of our lives in France and, in its own way, part of the fun.  And then, we arrive, to spring, to long-missed friends and to the splendors of a seasonal life once again in our village.

 

 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I seem to have fallen into the bad blogger pit and have just emerged, a bit disheveled from the tumble into the hole and out again, but glad to be back typing away.

Let’s just say life and blogging became mutually exclusive for a while.

Part of the inspiration for writing again is that another trip to Provence is getting closer.  I’m hoping to have my tickets bought in the next week or so and, once that happens, the real planning can begin.  We’re doing a May tour this year for a private group and so there’s more to plan than normal but I also need to pull out the to-bring list and see what will need to join the tool box in my suitcase for this voyage .

Because I can so easily grab necessary but unexciting items for the French house here while I’m out running other errands or while they’re on sale, I always have a stack waiting to be packed when I leave.  I tuck them in my closet pre-trip and, so far, the tool box it’s kind of sparse  in there.

I can’t say I’ve ever seen a tool box in France although I can’t say I’ve looked too hard either.  I can say my tools will be happy not to rolling around loose in our storage room once I get to Mollans and I will be happy not to be wasting precious time on the hunt.  I’d rather chase down something tasty to eat or just sit on our terrace and relax.

I actually have two tool boxes waiting for delivery next to my shoe rack right now.  The second is going to our condo in Florida in about a week and this one is filled with tools from my friend, Jean, who is cleaning out her basement.  How I got to be almost 65 and suddenly in need of home maintenance items is a question that requires more reflection than a blog needs or wants to cover.  Instead, how about a recipe?  In honor of my trip to Florida, here’s a great salad recipe that’s seasonal and easily prepared.

AVOCADO AND CITRUS SALAD

1 grapefruit

2 avocados

2 oranges

1 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 cups torn lettuce

6 tablespoons diced red onion

 

Peel the grapefruit; cut in segments.  Halve avocados; remove pits.  Peel, slice in wedges and layer in shallow bowl.  Top with grapefruit segments and any accumulated juices.  Peel oranges; cut into crosswise slices.  Add to bowl.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together the white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.  Whisk in olive oil.  Toss greens with vinaigrette.  Divide among 6 salad plates. Top with orange slices; scatter grapefruit and avocado over all.  Sprinkle with red onion.

 

6 servings

 

Tuesday, July 3

We’ve been eating locally here at the Evans’ household.  In fact, we couldn’t get more local than our own backyard.  The lettuce is now officially toast–literally with all of this heat–but the Swiss chard is thriving and made a lovely bed when quickly wilted for some Copper River salmon.  I topped the salmon with a swipe of mustard, blended with tarragon from our herb garden before grilling.

My friend, Linda, passed on some cilantro from her garden and it found its way into a Mexican pasta salad.  Our carrot from the patch behind the garage added some nice crunch and I found a small onion to toss in too.  With a quick stop at our Kingfield market on Sunday to fill in with what we don’t grow–zucchini, for example, doesn’t do well in our garden; go figure–I had what our son, Eric, described as the best pasta salad he’d ever eaten.

Mostly though, we’ve been stuffing ourselves on raspberries.  While in France, I ate myself silly on strawberries and then cherries we picked from a friend’s tree.  Here, I’m continuing the berry bonanza with both red and golden raspberries.  It’s been a bumper year and we’ve had raspberry shortcake, raspberry-topped pancakes, raspberries and Greek yogurt with French lavender honey, and, most recently, raspberry financiers.  Tomorrow it will be raspberry-blueberry coffeecake to move on to the next wave of berry deliciousness.  Our new little blueberry plants won’t be contributing this year but I can’t wait for next year’s crop.

Here’s a recipe for the shortcake that I wrote for the Cooking Club of America and that’s perfect for the 4th of July.  The white chocolate-laced cakes are a scrumptious base for almost any summer fruit.

RED, WHITE AND BLUEBERRY SHORTCAKES

Shortcakes

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut in ½-inch dice

3 ounces white chocolate, cut in chunks

¼ cup sugar

½ cup heavy whipping cream

1 egg

Filling

1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream

1 ounce white chocolate, chopped

1 pint strawberries, halved or 1 pint raspberries

1 pint blueberries

 

Heat oven to 375°F.  Lightly spray baking sheet with non-stick spray.

For the shortcakes, blend flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse sand.  Stir in 3 ounces white chocolate chunks and sugar.  Whisk ½ cup cream and egg together in a small bowl; stir into flour mixture just until combined.

Turn mixture onto lightly floured counter; pat to 1-inch thickness.  Cut with a 2 ½-inch round cutter into 6 circles, working scraps together if necessary to form all the circles.  Place on prepared baking sheet; bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned.  Let cool on wire rack.  Split in two while still slightly warm and the white chocolate has not completely hardened.

For the filling, combine ¼ cup whipping cream and 1 ounce chopped white chocolate in medium microwave-proof bowl.  Melt chocolate on medium-power, about 1 minute.  Stir to combine.  Let cool, stirring occasionally.  Whip remaining 1 ¼ cups whipping cream in medium bowl on high speed until slightly firmer than soft peaks.  Slowly beat in cooled, melted white chocolate to form a soft cream filling.  Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve; stir gently before serving.

When ready to serve, place bottom halves of shortcakes on 6 dessert plates.  Spoon white chocolate whipped cream over bottoms; top with fruit.  Cover with top halves of shortcakes and serve.

 

6 servings

Sunday, June 24

Home.

How strange to look at my last post and think of all the things that have happened since then.  Way too many to write about and all in the space of two weeks.

I spent the last of my days in Mollans getting ready to head home, firming up arrangements for our little French house, and anticipating the runaway bus activities of the first week home in Minneapolis.

When I write about my time in France, I like to share the best of my experiences.  But, in the background, there’s all the day to day stuff that goes with working, living and owning a home no matter the location.  When you’re self-employed, as I am, there’s always email to answer, class descriptions to write, rental inquiries that need replies via computer or phone, etc, etc, etc.  There’s stuff for the house–a new oven and freezer this trip that needed to be picked out and delivered, a wall that needed painting, and a small garden to weed.  Housework rears its ugly head with endless laundry to be washed and hung out to dry, bathrooms and bedrooms to be cleaned before leaving for the next set of renters, and supplies (toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, and so on) to be stocked up for the same reason.

And the euros to fling hither and yon before our departure.

There was the garage lady to talk to and pay.  We finally found a garage for our car in the village last fall, after 10 years of makeshift storage arrangements at several friends’ homes and even a vineyard, and we wanted to extend the rental through the following spring.  Since the garage belongs to the woman’s daughter and the daughter doesn’t live in the village, there’s a  step by step dance to the process that needs to done in the proper order.

First we greet each other on the street and exchange pleasantries about the winter.  Then we talk about the dampness in the garage and how we don’t mind it at all and, yes, the car started right up and, yes, isn’t it a good thing to have a place to lock it up out of the weather, and, yes, we’d like to store it again when we leave for the summer.  Of course but the daughter will need to be consulted about the price.  Step one done.

Then, before I leave, we track her down again, agree on the price and convince her to take the money for both the summer and then again for the winter.  She only wants the summer money but we won’t have time in the fall for this dance and so we tactfully convince her to take the fistful of euros (in cash, of course) that we’re trying to give her.

Next there’s the cleaning woman who needs her dates to be given, tasks be assigned, and payment schedule arranged for the renters while we’re gone.  We call. she comes over, we work our way through our cleaning and laundry vocabulary, get everything set including helping us with the tour in the fall, and then talk about the US and her dreams of visiting.  Which we may be funding through all the various services we’ve contracted with her.

And so it goes.  The guy comes to inspect our wooden beams that seem to be providing a gourmet feast for some tiny insect pest and we set up an appointment for him to return that involves a reminder phone call several days before the actual event.  And get more cash for the event.

And the muffler on our ancient car.  We’ve avoided replacing it for far too long and the noise finally has pushed us to the repair shop.  No Midas muffler for us, just a 150 euro bill on completion of service.  Plus two visits to the garage, one to find out what muffler we needed and one to install it after it had been ordered.

When folks ask me now how the trip went, I don’t tell them all of this and I simply say it was a fabulous visit.  And, it was.  Day to day reality always sticks its unwanted nose into our lives but there’s all the other glorious events that more that compensate for the dreck.  So, as I recuperate from getting home–a mere 23 hour event–and the marathon of getting back to Minneapolis life that followed, I’m going to read my other posts and recapture the magic.

Sunday, June 10

Serendipity happens.  Thursday proved it.

We’d decided to try a new restaurant in Montbrun, next to the thermal baths where folks come to soak away whatever ails them in the sulfurous water.  Luckily the rotten egg odor seemed to be confined to the baths themselves and not an unexpected aroma at our restaurant.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Travel is full of days where everything falls magically into place and also full of days where achieving the day’s goal seems almost insurmountable.  Thursday’s trip to Montbrun started out to be the hard variety and then, suddenly flipped right over.

We left with plenty of time, hoping to find some early blooming lavender fields on the winding, impossibly narrow, two way roads that lead through the steep hills and valleys to Montbrun.  We headed down the road towards Buis les Baronnies only to find, at our turn-off, that the road was closed for the day due to maintenance.

We reversed and headed back to Mollans, thinking to take the other approach, a bit less scenic, that started outside our village.  Once there, the same “road closed” sign greeted us.

Rolling down the window, I asked the construction guy how we were supposed to get to our destination.

“Head back to Buis,” he said and then gave us a map to follow that wove us through the hills to the back of beyond and then further until we finally would reach our goal.

Having wasted almost a half hour at this point by going back and forth on the same road, on reaching Buis, we’d already used up most of the expected 45 minutes for the drive and our reservation time was fast approaching.

Luckily, we didn’t let it get to us and just followed the road, sometimes seeming like little more than a paved path, until we got to the restaurant, only a half hour late and within their designated serving hours.

Here’s where things flipped to serendipity.  Firstly, the new route took us through villages and jagged semi-mountainous areas we’d never seen before.  No lavender in bloom in the small, flat patches in the rocks–too early yet at that elevation, except for a tiny purple patch in the distance–but, instead, also perched on the rocks, a chateau.   We passed it with on time to doddle on the way to our meal but decided to stop on the way back.

So after a pleasant lunch, we turned around and returned to the chateau where, as we got out of the car, we were greeted by a woman who asked, “Are you here for the tour?”

Obviously, the only answer was yes.  It turned out to be only tour of the day.   Not acknowledging that we had no idea it even existed, we paid our money and followed our charming guide (one of six inhabitants of the  village, Aulan, four of whom were her family members) around the church, grounds and interior of the chateau itself.    She showed us everything from family pictures of the owners to a coat from Louis XVI.

If we’d been 1o minutes later, we would have missed this tiny, delicious treat that had nothing to do with our meal or day’s plans.  If the original road hadn’t been under construction, we wouldn’t have gone that way at all.

Serendipity.  It happens.

Wednesday, June 6

We’ve been entertaining quite a bit here at Maison Mollans and not all of the guests have been invited–or human.

Saturday evening, we looked out our kitchen window and could make out animal shapes mostly hidden by the trees in the field behind our house.  Three of them.  At first we thought they might be cows but they weren’t big enough for cows.  The next guess was goats but that didn’t seem quite right either.  Finally, one of them let out a distinctive braying noise and we realized we seemed to be pasturing donkeys.  We roamed the house going from window to window and up to the terrace trying to get a better view and could tell there was some sort of fence keeping them from wandering off down the nearby road.  None of this had been there earlier in the day.

We headed off to bed, serenaded from time to time by plaintive but loud donkey call, and wondering just what the heck was going on now.

The next morning, our unexpected guests were accompanied by a man.  He was collecting the impromptu corral, winding up the fence and picking up the stakes that held it in place.  Today the donkeys came back for a while but  this time their owners–some sort of vagabond group–parked them in front of the fountain where they all posed for pictures and tried to beg money.   More braying wafted into our house from time to time but they’re gone now, at least for the time being.

Everyone else who’s come has been invited and the food they’ve eaten has, hopefully, been of a higher caliber than the grasses and weeds from our field.

Our American brunch on Sunday, complete with mimosas, muffins and coffeecake, was a success.  We tucked in around the table and the two French, one British and one American guest all pronounced it delicious.  We spoke mostly French that day with a melange of accents from England to Louisiana to California providing a counterpoint for our native speakers.

We had more guests last night with an equal array of accents but this time the common language was English.  We discovered that our next door neighbors, whose visits from Germany rarely coincide with ours, were here in Mollans so we invited them for drinks.  We  also invited our British friends, Steve and Jo, along with their house guests to round out the party.  Over nibbles and wine, we talked about a range of topics, from financial ethics to facelifts, interlaced with talk of travels to Chile,  someone’s stint as a bodyguard, another’s as a golf pro and, finally the proper way for a man to respond when asked by his wife for his opinion on her apparel.  It all was grea

Friday, June 1

The past week was filled with music.  Last Friday, our English friend, Jo, and her nine women choral group Calliopee, gave a beautiful concert in a nearby village, Crestet.   A hill town, as on many are in this part of France, we drove part of the way up and then hiked up steps to the eleventh century church where they were singing.  Inside this intimate, cream-walled setting, the nine women. dressed in black but draped in vibrant, shawls–each fabric in a different, vibrant, color–sang a selection of sacred and profane music that was truly moving.  Covering the spectrum of emotion, from joy to sadness, their modal songs nestled within the small, welcoming church and in the spirits of the audience.  It was quite the experience.

Later, this past Wednesday, we noticed a poster in our village advertising another musical presentation.  The name on the poster was La Joconde, the French name for the Mona Lisa, and we were intrigued.  The poster told us to go to the village meeting hall, underneath the Mairie, and so we headed there at the appointed time, not sure what to expect.

We first found a group of folks listening to a speaker, complete with a buffet in the background and wondered if we had our information wrong.  It turns out we’d stumbled on the local debate for the upcoming  election.  Heading to the lower level, we found a collection of villagers, young and old, sitting on plastic chairs and facing a stage.  Soon, another group of nine women emerged and they proceeded to do a bit of acting–with an assortment of costume changes mostly accomplished by changing head-gear–and a lot of singing.  They too did a great job and seemed to be having a wonderful time.

Afterwards, we headed home to a dinner of sauteed duck breast, in  a cherry, red wine and balsamic sauce, spiked with a bit of our friend Ian’s ginger jam.  Our senses singing, our souls and stomachs pleasurably filled, we called it a night.

Monday, May 28

It’s a long weekend here in France, as well as the States, but we’re observing Pentecost.  I use observing loosely, as most of the French I know are barely practicing Catholics.  They may get baptized, make their first communion, and get married in the church but for many even that’s a stretch.  Yet, they observe the jours feries–or Holy Days–in that they get the days off.  Since Pentecost is a Sunday and a day off anyway, the dispensation from work extends to Monday.  When we arrived in France a little over a week ago, it was the Ascension weekend.  Ascension is always on a Thursday so, with the unerring French ability to relax and enjoy yet another vacation day, they threw in Friday and made it a four-day weekend.

And so, for the better part of two weeks, the French have been celebrating and very little has been getting done.  No one seems to mind this lack of industry and the pace of their world will pick up again tomorrow.

In little Mollans, it’s pretty quiet.  Evidently, last weekend, the town tried to throw a big–or big for them–fete but it got rained out on Sunday.  This weekend, it was Vaison-la-Romaine’s turn, with reenactments from Roman time, choral groups, artists and plenty of hoopla.

The most excitement here was a baptism and mass at our little church on Saturday.  Because of the severe priest shortage, there’s hardly ever a mass anymore in out town and so we decided to make an appearance and see who’d turn up for the baptism.

The church was packed, with attendees spilling outside, and, unusually, lots of young people and children.  Most looked as though they hadn’t been in a church since their own baptism and, as the mass progressed, the crowd inside slowly melted into the crowd outside, restlessly waiting for the post-baptism party to begin.  Grandma’s and a handful of assorted relatives hung in there, along with the truly faithful, until the last blessing and we finally all spilled from the church, everyone grateful in their own way and ready to celebrate the gift of life.

The Pentecost weekend will end soon, the evening is almost upon us, and soon Hallie and I will take ourselves to pizza Monday.  The pizza truck pulls in next to the Bar du Pont, the tables on the terrace get lined up like a row of dominoes, carafes of vin rouge dot every other place and everyone catches up on the past week’s events.  It should be fun.

Friday, May 25

After sitting on our sunny terrace soaking up vitamin D this afternoon, I find myself in our living room in Mollans sur l’Ouveze soaking up some more local loveliness, rose wine laced with sirop de pamlemousse  (grapefruit syrup).  All it takes is about a teaspoon of the stuff to add a healthy jolt of complexity to a pleasant summer aperitif.

And, summer it is, after an unpromising beginning.  We’ve been here a bit less than a week and arrived on a chilly, rain-soaked day that suited unpacking and settling in but offered no outdoor glories.  After a great meal at our local Hotel St. Marc featuring asparagus tart, prune-stuffed quail and coffee panna cotta, we toddled home.  I turned on the small heater in my room and drifted swiftly off to sleep

The next day brought the sun and it’s been glorious ever since.  We’ve been running here and there getting provisions and seeing old friend but today promised ourselves no driving, just a leisurely book and sun-filled day that’s now drifting towards evening with the help of a verre of rose.